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23 May 2016 | 0

Forget going driverless, the next big development in cars may not be how you drive but what makes your car go – specifically a move away from petrol and diesel to hydrogen by way of plain water.

Researchers at nanoscience research institute Crann based at Trinity College Dublin have made a significant breakthrough in energy research by developing a material which enhances the splitting of water at a low energy cost using earth abundant raw materials, releasing hydrogen which can be used as a source of clean energy.

Hydrogen has been described as the ultimate clean energy source, it’s seen as very attractive as it is a pollution-free fuel and energy carrier. Hydrogen is readily prepared by splitting water electrically into its component parts hydrogen and oxygen in a process called electrolysis.

However, electrolysis requires a significant amount of energy and can be expensive.

Prof Mike Lyons, principal investigator at Crann and TCD School of Chemistry, explained: “We are very excited about this very significant breakthrough. The adoption of this material in industry will mean that electrochemical hydrogen generation using photo (electrolysis) is now far more economically viable and will hasten adoption of hydrogen as a fuel in energy-efficient transportation.

“It should be noted that this discovery could only have been accomplished using the world class characterisation facilities and opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration available within the School of Chemistry and Crann.

“Our disruptive materials breakthrough is momentous as it means much more energetically efficient and more economical hydrogen energy. This means that the cost of producing hydrogen via water electrolysis will be significantly reduced, which will result in a more rapid uptake of hydrogen as an automotive fuel.”

Unfortunately there isn’t a roadmap for when we can expect hydrogen to become a mainstream option, but this work will surely put pressure on manufacturers to explore more alternative energy sources.

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